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Breaking the Cycle

What I'm Reading Today: Numbers 12-14

For many years now, I have looked up to Moses as a spiritual guide and mentor. There have been lots of reasons for that. For one reason, I can totally relate to how Moses responded to God's call to speak on God's behalf. Moses responded by resisting that call since he didn't feel up to the task. Another reason I can relate is that Moses was awfully impulsive. His act of violence against the Egyptian because of his mistreatment of the slave was a good example of that. The most important lesson Moses taught me in my ministry was that it doesn't matter how important you (or others) think you are – chances are you'll never get to cross over into the Promised Land. Good leaders all pass the torch to the next individual.

As I read today's passage from Numbers, I realized there was yet another thing that Moses can teach me – if I'm open to the learning. The new lesson is this: often, it is up to the individual who may feel wronged in a situation to break the cycle of blaming and set things right (if and when that is possible).

Today's passage began, for instance, with Miriam and Aaron complaining that Moses was getting preferential treatment from God. This ticked God off and caused God to lash out against Miriam and Aaron. And yet who was it who came to Miriam and Aaron's defense? That's right. Moses.

And later in the reading, we are told that the Israelites were vehemently complaining against God. This was the same group of people that had just threatened to pick a new leader. And how did Moses respond to the people? He responded by defending them to God.

In each instance, Moses understood that an essential part of being a faithful person is breaking the cycle of animosity – and being an agent of reconciliation in order to set things right. That's an important lesson for me to hear this week.

I wonder today if there might be a situation in your life where you feel wronged in some fashion: a circumstance where you feel totally justified in lashing out against another. If you have some a place in your life, take a deep breath and remember Moses' example. By spiritually grounding yourself in God's love and grace, you can break the cycle of verbal and spiritual violence and help get things back on track by doing nothing other than simply adjusting your attitude.

Til next time …

Asking for Help

What I'm Reading Today: Numbers 9-11

As those of you who have read my blog for some time know, one of my favorite topics is "leadership". It's something in which I've been interested since I was in elementary school.

When I use the word "leadership", I've noticed that some folks treat the topic as if it is just one monolithic bloc. It's not. The concept of leadership actually contains many smaller components within it. One aspect of leadership, for instance, involves a person's ability to inspire others. Another aspect has to do with administering things. Still another dimension involves management. There are so many components involved that it's impossible for a "good leader" to master each aspect.

Like most leaders I have some aspects of leadership that I'm good at and other aspects that I'm not. One of the areas that I consistently struggle with involves my ability to delegate. I still have some old tapes in my head that suggest a "good leader" is someone who does all the work him or herself.

Because of that, I sometimes find myself in the same place that Moses found himself in today's reading: completely overwhelmed. When the Israelites got sick of eating manna every day and started complaining, and God heard those complaints and started to get ticked off – Moses reached the same breaking point that I sometimes have found myself. Moses cried out, "So why dump the responsibility of this people on me?!"

As soon as Moses uttered those words, guess what happened.

God sent help in the form of seventy persons to assist Moses.

In that moment of the story, I am reminded about a basic truth that I keep forgetting in life. When we feel completely overwhelmed and frustrated, all we have to do is ask for help. Such help may not appear instantly. More often than not, however, that help materializes. The hardest part in the entire process is finding the courage to ask for help.

Maybe you are in a place in your life where you feel totally overwhelmed. Perhaps you've been trying to shoulder all of the burdens alone. If that's the case; remember today's story, take a risk, and ask for help. You never know. That much needed help just might appear!

Til next time …


What I'm Reading Today: Numbers 6-8

Today's passage contained a very detailed list of what each leader decided to present in the process of dedicating the Altar. Nahshon, for instance, decided to bring offerings that ranged from a silver plate weighing 3-1/4 pounds to a young bull. The other eleven leaders brought gifts that were very similar.

The passage got me to thinking about what it is that I would bring in order to participate in that process of dedication.

As I thought about this, I realized that my contribution wouldn't be a material good like a silver plate or a young bull (though some have accused me of offering up some bull at times); my offering would be an attitudinal one. Here's the contribution I would make.

As someone who regularly participates in Co-Dependents Anonymous, the very First Step challenges me to hold onto the following awareness: "I am powerless over others" and that "my life has become unmanageable." On some days, that can be a tremendously challenging admission to make – for I feel that I am on top of the world and fully capable of managing things, thank you very much! On other days, I feel tremendously beaten down and am more than happy to surrender my illusions of control to God.

Over the last year, with God's help, I have grown tremendously in my willingness to make that admission each day. That is a good thing – because in this society so many things send us the message that the sign of a "good leader" is "being in control". The longer I live – and the more time I spend in ministry – I realize I have to reject those pressures. There are so many variables beyond my control. To fail to acknowledge this would be unreasonable. While the notion of having things beyond my control used to scare the soup out of me, today – at least at this very moment – I feel like I can let go of some of the outcomes before me and trust in the transformative presence of God to see things through.

So if I were asked to participate in that process of presentation that is what I would bring: the honest admission that I am powerless over others and that my life has become unmanageable. That is my gift.

Today I invite you to think about what it is that you would present to God. Have fun exploring that question!

Til next time …l

Being Direct

What I'm Reading Today: Numbers 3-5

I was raised in a wonderful household who – let's face it – had it quirks (just like every other household). One of the things my father (who was of Norwegian descent) and mother (who was of German descent) taught me very subtly was that if I had an issue with someone I should never be too direct. I should always begin by dropping hints to the other person. I should never tell the other person exactly what's wrong. That was considered rude! Instead, I should be patient and allow time for the other person to pick up on the hint I dropped and then make the necessary changes to right the situation. That's how life was supposed to work.

If I loaned someone some money, for instance, and they forgot to pay me back; the next time I was around the person I could say something like, "Do you want to grab a burger at Red Robin's. Oh, I would love to but money is really tight right now so I guess I'll have to take a rain check."

The other person was expected to make the connection between my statement and the fact that they forgot to repay me. Then the other party would repay me.

While I know my parents' intentions were good, their way of being has gotten me in trouble more times that I can count. It also helped make each of their four kids prone toward passive aggressiveness. This is a problem I'm still working hard to rectify 25 years after leaving their home.

So where do many folks like my parents pick up this approach to problem solving?

One of the sources would be in passages like today's from Numbers. In that passage we are given a long set of instructions that explains how a man (and yes, the passage only addresses situations involving a wronged man!) is supposed to come to terms with his suspicion that his wife has cheated on him.

In a healthy relationship, the individual would ask his or her spouse (or perhaps another party who is involved) what happened. While there is a chance your spouse may lie, at least you have put responsibility for truth telling where it belongs: with the involved parties.

Instead of taking such a direct approach, however, today's passage advocates for a ritual that is expected to reveal the truth for the parties involved.

All of this makes me wonder where you are at with all of this. Are you someone who is able to directly engage issues and deal with the concerns at hand, or are you someone who stands back and hopes to influence outcomes indirectly? Instead answering that question in your mind, watch yourself throughout the course of the day. Let your actions today answer the question for you.

Til next time …


What I'm Reading Today: Numbers 1 & 2

Each faith community I've been part of has its own unique practices. Some of these practices are easily understood; others are not. The challenge for those folks who arrive in these faith communities (both laypeople and clergy) is to decide which of the practices are worth trying to understand and which practices are not.

Let me give you an example of one situation I ran into years ago in one of the faith communities I was a part of. In this particular church there was a tradition of taking two separate counts of folks who were at church on a given Sunday. One count was for the adults, and one count was for the children.

When I first learned of this practice, I thought it was EXTREMELY odd. They didn't separate the money the children put into the offering plates when they counted the offering, I wondered, so why would they separate out the children from the adults in their attendance count?

I sat with my question for several months and tried coming up with my own answer to the question. "Maybe they do that in order to help them complete the end of the year denominational reports that ask for demographic information regarding the composition of the faith community," I thought to myself. "Or perhaps they are trying to build a case for increasing next year's youth budget by tracking the number of youth," I reasoned. When I finally got around to asking the sensitive question, the answer I was given was that it had simply always been done that way. They weren't about to change it.

The whole time I was part of the community that practice made me VERY sad.


Because it sent a message that the youth of the community were not as important as the adults. It played into the notion that if you want to know how many people were REALLY there, you shouldn't include the children – or, at the very least, you should put a hyphen next to the grand total and warn folks that the number included children. Yikes!

I was reminded of this experience when I read today's opening chapters from the Book of Numbers. That's because much of the opening words had to do with tallying the number of Israelites in various tribes/communities. What struck me was how limited the scope of their counting process was. "The sum total of the People of Israel," the passage specified, "twenty years old and over who were able to fight in the army, county by ancestral family, was 603,550. The Levites, however, were not counted by their ancestral family along with the others."

If someone was asked how many Israelites there were, they would have been told 603,550. That count would have sent the message that women, children, the differently abled who were not able to fight, and Levites – among others – were not counted/included. How sad.

Sadly there are lots of ways in which individuals are still not counted today. When most communities count the number of married couples, for instance, they don't include same-gendered couples. And when many communities list their population, they typically overlook many of the homeless individuals in their count of the population. The list of those who don't "count" could go on for quite a while.

Today, I would encourage you to open your eyes to the way you move through the world. Pay close attention to those that you count/see (i.e. those who matter) and those that you don't.

Til next time …

Remembering When

What I'm Reading Today: Leviticus 26-27

When I was younger, I had a habit of moving quickly from one drama to another without giving much thought to what had happened before. If I had a big test in chemistry coming up, for instance, I would pour all of my energy into preparing for the test. When I finished the chemistry test, I would realize I needed to memorize a piece of music for my next piano lesson - so I would spend lots of time memorizing the piece. When I finished memorizing the piano piece, I would recall that I needed to read a novel for my sophomore literature class so I would disappear from the world for a while until I had completed the novel.

That way of being was fairly constant for me during my early years as I constantly moved from one drama to the next.

Over time, however, I began to develop a new approach toward life: one that had two parts to it that had previously been missing.

First, I eventually became more proactive and began to anticipate things that were coming up and prepare for them so they weren't crises by the time I got around to them. Second, I began to take a little time when I was feeling overwhelmed and totally inadequate to remember those times I had made it through circumstance I thought were beyond me. When I was reading the novel at the last minute, for instance, I would remind myself that I got an A- on the big chemistry test. That memory would increase my confidence and help me remember that I DID have what it takes to make it through.

Today's passage reminded me of that shift in my approach toward life. In today's passage - as the Israelites are being informed about the series of expectations that were laid out for them – there's a moment when we are told God reminds them what they had already made it through as a way of encouraging them. "I am God, your personal God who rescued you from Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians." That statement reminded the Israelites that – no matter how challenging the circumstances before them were – they would be okay.

As you face the myriad of challenges before you, I would encourage you to find time today and remember a challenging time in your life where you particularly felt God's presence and support. Hold on to that memory tightly and use it to give you confidence - knowing that you have what it takes to make it through!

Til next time …